It’s not the weirdest or most jaw-dropping moment in Get Out—you might even have forgotten about it considering the plethora of highlights to choose from—but the dinner table scene, in which Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) breaks bread for the first time with the family of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), demonstrates brilliant on-screen chemistry at work. As Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), tells embarrassing stories about her high school hook-ups, her parents, Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, respectively), wink almost imperceptibly as Rose guffaws awkwardly, and a bewildered Chris digs for more juicy tidbits about his new girlfriend. But when Jeremy turns his attention to Chris, interrogating him in racially coded language, the moment quickly bubbles into discomfort. Chris rolls with it, but you can see he’s fighting against saying some words in return. The others shut Jeremy down firmly, and without fuss. We move on.
Every actor sells that scene: The posturing that often comes with an initial lack of familiarity—the overly polite and sterile banter, the hearty chuckles at only mildly funny quips—is perfectly executed. The same can be said for so many other instances in Get Out, whether it’s Lakeith Stanfield as the mysteriously zombielike Logan, imploring Chris to leave while he still can; or Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ best friend, Rod, serving as the audience’s jocular-but-wise stand-in; or Betty Gabriel as the maid Georgina, giving one of the best line readings of the year. And yet for all its accomplishments, Get Out remains a moderate Oscar favorite at best, and the chances of any of its performers—save perhaps Kaluuya, who’s jumped onto some awards pundits’ lists after he snagged a Golden Globe nomination—earning an individual acting nod are slim to none.
Enough already. It’s time for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to consider following in the footsteps of the Screen Actors Guild and create a category for Best Ensemble. It’s baffling that one doesn’t already exist, as almost all of the major elements of moviemaking are already singled out for inclusion: directing, makeup and hair, costume, production design, and so on. Some broader categories like sound and writing are split even finer: sound editing and sound mixing, adapted and original screenplays. But when it comes to the art of acting, the academy has always preferred to elevate single performances while ignoring group efforts, which arguably take more skill to pull off.
The Best Ensemble award is different from the oft-proposed (and rightfully so) award for Best Casting. With this honor, the academy would adopt categorization similar to SAG’s official rules for eligibility for its Outstanding Cast nominations: The ensemble in this case would “be represented by those actors billed on separate cards in the main titles, wherever those titles appear.” Of course, this could easily turn into a mangled, ego-driven mess—sadly, Get Out’s Gabriel would still not get her own statuette if the film wins for Outstanding Cast at the SAG Awards on Jan. 21—but it would also help the academy rein in the number of physical awards it presents. The organization’s rules already place caps on the number of physical Oscars per award; makeup and hairstyling, for instance, “normally” allows for “no more than two statuettes,” with rare exceptions made for a third recipient who proves to be a “primary and essential contributor.”
And why not spread the recognition for performances around more generously? Unless it’s a film like Dunkirk, where the technical wizardry is more memorable than the (fine) acting, or The Disaster Artist with a clear lead and standout portrayal, an ensemble’s work is a significant component of what makes the “best” movies, well, the best. The Big Sick features stellar performances from Kumail Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano; Lady Bird boasts a wonderful cast of characters played by Saoirse Ronan, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, and current Best Supporting Actress front-runner Laurie Metcalf.* The Florida Project pulls captivating, realistic performances out of three unknown child actors—7-year-old Brooklynn Prince’s Moonee is one of the year’s most layered characters—as well as newcomer Bria Vinaite, and Willem Dafoe has one of his best turns in years. Call Me by Your Name—which at this point looks most likely of this bunch to gain multiple acting nods—is buoyed by Chalamet’s naturalistic depiction of youthful yearning, not to mention Armie Hammer’s ease in portraying an affable, easy-going stud, and Michael Stuhlbarg’s Oscar clip–worthy scene in the film’s final moments. Those five movies could easily make a competitive category and could be interchanged with Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, and the polarizing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Ensemble recognition could also help the less conventionally awards-ready crowd-pleasers like Girls Trip (ahem, Tiffany Haddish, ahem) and The Big Sick rack up major and hard-earned Oscar nominations. #OscarsSoWhite helped push the academy to broaden its membership to include a younger, more ethnically varied voting bloc, but the Oscar bait movie is still a concept in full force; look at Steven Spielberg’s grandstanding period piece The Post, or the ostensibly woke—but not really—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. If comedies and other genre pictures are still going to have a harder time being taken seriously at the Oscars, at least they might stand a better chance of achieving some recognition here. Past SAG nominations are littered with worthy films that failed to connect with academy voters including Straight Outta Compton, Into the Wild, Bridesmaids, and Hustle & Flow.
Actors—the academy’s largest voting bloc—might fret that ensemble awards would lessen support for the more coveted individual awards: An Oscar for Lady Bird’s cast might take away from Metcalf’s shot at Supporting Actress. But at the SAG Awards, plenty of actors have managed to pull off a nomination in both categories: Frances McDormand in Fargo, Kate Winslet in Titanic, Annette Bening in American Beauty (she won) and The Kids Are All Right, Bryan Cranston in Trumbo, Denzel Washington in Fences (he won), and Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in this year’s Three Billboards, to name just a few. And considering all the ways in which studios have already tried to game the system in recent years—we all know Viola Davis’ Oscar for Fences should’ve been for Best Actress, not supporting—it’s hard to imagine that adding more chances to win would truly put a damper on the solo acting categories.
The last two Best Picture winners have featured casts so strong and in sync that it was impossible to imagine them being recast with different actors. The three actors who played Little/Chiron/Black in Moonlight, along with Mahershala Ali (who deservedly won Best Supporting Actor), André Holland, and Naomie Harris complemented Tarell Alvin McCraney’s tight script, Barry Jenkins’ keen direction, and James Laxton’s lush cinematography. In 2015’s Spotlight, understated performances by Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, and John Slattery found shades of meaning and intensity in the equally understated script and direction. In each case, you could single out a standout (especially Ali), but none of them, alone, “made” the movie. There’s something magical about watching a film in which all the moving parts come together, when you can’t just point to the directing, or the makeup, or a single performance that makes it worthwhile. Until Best Ensemble exists alongside director, writer, and all of the other very specific categories, the academy will continue to ignore one of the most crucial aspects of filmmaking on the night it gives out its highest honors.
*Correction, Jan. 4, 2018: This post originally misspelled Laurie Metcalf’s last name.
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